You Better Not Compromise Yourself. It’s All You Got

Janis Joplin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Janis Joplin was an American rock star of the late 1960s and early 1970s who tragically died when she was only 27. Her vocalizations and emotional delivery were distinctive. Apparently she said:

Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the Sunday newspaper supplement “Parade” magazine which published a short profile of Janis Joplin in April 1969: 1

Last year, Janis earned over $50,000. Her album, Cheap Thrills, was a big hit. Now, with a new band, a comfortable apartment in San Francisco and a multicolored Porsche, Janis is big-time and rising.

Her message: “You better not compromise yourself. It’s all you got.”

The quotation above differed slightly from the popular modern version. The text was not part of an interview; hence, it was possible that the journalist Derek Norcross lifted the quotation from some earlier article that QI has not yet seen.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In February 1970 a columnist in an Irving, Texas newspaper ascribed the popular modern version of the quotation to Joplin: 2

Pop-rock songstress Joplin says, “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”

Joplin died in 1970, and by 1973 the statement without attribution was starting to appear on placards. For example, the actor George Hamilton stated that he saw the statement in the office of a movie producer: 3

Producer Al Ruddy has a placard in his office reading: ‘Don’t Compromise Yourself Because You Are All You’ve Got.’

Joplin’s words have been placed into quotation references. For example, in 1987 “Pearls of Wisdom: A Harvest of Quotations from All Ages Compiled” by Jerome Agel and Walter D. Glanze included the following entry: 4

Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.
Janis Joplin

In 1990 the same quotation and ascription appeared in “Friendly Advice” compiled by Jon Winokur. 5

In 1992 the comment appeared in “And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker”. 6

In conclusion, QI believes that Janis Joplin did make this remark. The precise phrasing was uncertain, and Joplin may have employed more than one version. The earliest instance in 1969 has the best evidentiary support.

Image Notes: Picture of Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356; author: Sergio Calleja (Life is a trip) from Barcelona, Spain; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Publicity photo of Janis Joplin circa 1970. Images accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Mardy’s latest excellent book is “Metaphors Be With You: An A to Z Dictionary of History’s Greatest Metaphorical Quotations”.)

Notes:

  1. 1969 April 6, The Orlando Sentinel, Section: Parade (Sunday Supplement), Article: Youth Notes: The Little Girl Can Sing, Author: Derek Norcross, Quote Page 15, Column 3, Orlando, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1970 February 16, Irving Daily News, Article: Maxi-Rap ’70: Students looking at hard facts, Author: Patsi Aucoin, Quote Page 1, Column 6, Irving, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1973 August 19, Sunday Herald Advertiser (Boston Herald), Section: Pictorial Living, In Hollywood with Dorothy Manners: Ex-playboy George Hamilton finds wifely tricks delightful, Quote Page 22, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1987 Copyright, Pearls of Wisdom: A Harvest of Quotations from All Ages Compiled by Jerome Agel and Walter D. Glanze, Quote Page 86, Perennial Library: Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1990, Friendly Advice, Compiled and edited by Jon Winokur, Section: Words To Live By, Quote Page 268, Dutton, New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. 1992, And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker by Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans III, and Andrew Frothingham, Topic: Identity, Quote Page 155, A Thomas Dunne Book: St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)